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The Rites of Brigid: Goddess & Saint by Sean O’Duinn

I really loved this book. As an overview of the traditions and rites associated with St. Bride in Ireland, and speculation of their pre-Christian origins in the cult of the Goddess this exceeded my expectations.

Friar O’Duinn who lives at Glenstal Abbey in Ireland gives an academic and unbiased description. He compares the various components of the rites on St. Brigid’s day in Ireland to the cults and festivals of other saints to show what was quite normal in the veneration of a saint, and what was clearly influenced by other beliefs. I particularly liked his assertion that both the Brideog procession and the Threshold rites on St. Brigid’s day symbolise Bride’s return from the Otherworld, something not generally appropriate for Saints who tended to remain in Heaven. I see this as a very good argument for their being derived from earlier traditions.

Of perhaps the greatest value are the many first person descriptions of the rites he has collected from various Irish sources and translated in to English for the reader. These pieces show how the rites varied by locality and are worth the price of the book alone, whether or not you get value from O’Duinn’s speculations.

One of my few peeves with this work is the occasional reference to a Goddess as ‘the fertility goddess’ or ‘the mother goddess’ without specifying which one is meant, as the Celts clearly had several. However references of this kind were few and far between, so it’s certainly readable despite this.

I also took issue with some of his speculation, such as his comparing the symbolism of the Cros Bride with the lozenge and dot found on some ‘goddess’ figures in central Europe. Likewise, while I support his pet theory, that the Celts had a ‘Purusha’ type creation myth, I think he goes too far by suggesting that the rushes used to form the Brideog then being pulled apart to make Cros Bride is a form of mythic dismemberment.

Overall this is an excellent work and I would definitely recommend it to anyone as a solid source book for the traditions and rites surrounding La Fheile Bride and Bride’s wells in Ireland. It is useful in a practical sense for those wishing to reconstruct the rites and as a starting point for meditations on the symbolism of the many aspects of our beloved Bride.

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In my previous post I mentioned Fiona Macleod’s assertion that another name for the Dandelion (Bride’s flower) was Dealan De. Well, I quite accidentally found a version of an Irish song, Deirín dé, which is about the very same thing.

From O’Sullivan, “Songs of the Irish”:

DEIRÍN DÉ

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Tá’n gabhairín oíche amuigh san bhfraoch,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Tá’n bunán donn a’ labhairt san bhféith.

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Geóidh ba siar le héirí an lae,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Is raghaidh mo leanbh ‘á bhfeighilt ar féar.

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Eireóidh gealach is raghaidh grian fé,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Tiocfaidh ba aniar le deireadh an lae.

Deirín dé, deirín dé,
Leogfad mo leanbh a’ pioca sméar,
Deirín dé, deirín dé,
–Ach codail go sámh go fáinne an lae!

I. The nightjar [lit. little goat of the night!] is abroad in the heather, The brown bittern speaks in the reeds.
II. Cows will go west at dawn of day, And my child will go to mind them in the pasture.
III. The moon will rise and the sun will set, Cows will return at close of day.
IV. I shall let my child go picking blackberries – but sleep soundly till daybreak!

Singable translation by Donal O’Sullivan:

Derreen day, derreen day,
The nightjar calls upon the heath.
Derreen day, derreen day,
The bittern booms the reeds beneath.

…Cows will go west at dawn of day, …
My darling will watch them lest they stray.

…The new moon greets the setting sun’s ray, …
Homeward the cows will wend their way.

…I’ll let my darling go gathering may, …
If he sleeps soundly till dawn of day.

Link to further notes and translations

Inspired by this enchanting song, I went off to do a little more research and found the following passage in the Carmina Gadelica:

“Dealan-De, butterfly, golden butterfly; lit, fire of God–‘dealan,’ fire, flame, lightning; and ‘De,’ God.

The golden butterfly is held sacred. It is said to be the angel of God come to bear the souls of the dead to heaven. If it beseen in or near the house where a person is dead or dying, the omen is good, and the friends rejoice. If it be not seen, a substitute is made by rapidly twirling a fire-pointed stick, moving the while from the dead or dying person towards the door or window. This is called ‘dearban De,’ ‘dealan De.’

The ancient Egyptians represented the soul leaving the body as a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, sometimes from the mouth of the dead.”

Whether there is any link to Dandelions and Bride or not, this is quite fascinating in itself.

I praise to Brigid
She is praised in Ireland
She is praised in all countries
Let us all praise her
The bright torch of Leinster
Shining throughout the country
Head of Irish youth
Head of our gentle women
The house of winter is very dark
Cutting with its sharpness
But on Saint Brigid’s Day
Spring is near to us in Ireland

This is the most exquisite performance by Claire Roche, I wasn’t able to find the Gaelic lyrics to the song sadly but they are lovely even in English. While trying to uncover the meaning of the song title I came across some fascinating connections in words with the root ‘gabh’ … now this is coming from someone who does not speak a word of Gaelic, but this Irish-English dictionary lists the following definitions:

gabha: a smith
gabhal: burning in to a flame
gabhar: light, illumination, comfort
gabhlaim: (to) spring, shoot out
gabhluigim: sprout, shoot forth
gabhuin: a calf

Now, I’m hardly qualified to conjecture, but it seems the root word ‘gabh’ (gav) has meanings involving smiths, fire, sprouting of plants and young animals (particularly hooved animals) as well as being the mundane verb for ‘receive, accept, take.’ Very exciting to a Brigidine for obvious reasons.

Edit:  I’ve found the Gaelic lyrics at this wonderful site.

Kilmeny

Bonnie Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it wasna to meet Duneira's men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pu' the cress-flower round the spring;
The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hung frae the hazel tree;

Kilmeny, James Hogg